updated 6/1/2006 11:07:18 AM ET 2006-06-01T15:07:18

Alcoa Inc. and the United Steelworkers reached a tentative agreement on a four-year contract late Wednesday, avoiding a strike by 9,000 workers at 15 of the aluminum company's U.S. plants, an Alcoa spokesman said.

The deal was reached less than two hours before the contract expired at midnight CDT, in St. Louis, where the negotiations were conducted, Alcoa spokesman Kevin Lowery said from the company's Pittsburgh headquarters.

Union officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The deal averts what would have been the union's first strike since 1986 of the world's largest aluminum company.

Negotiators for both sides said much progress was made on a new contract over the weekend. It was not immediately clear when or how workers would vote on the deal, Lowery said.

The union workers represent about 20 percent of the company's U.S. employees, but only about 7 percent of Alcoa's global work force of 129,000.

Alcoa officials had said its managers were prepared to run the 15 plants nationwide if the workers did strike, and industry experts had told The Associated Press they doubted a strike would disrupt production.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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